The Ultimate Guide to a Great Actors Head Shot 2021

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The Ultimate Guide to a Great Actors Head Shot 2021

Actor headshots can be confusing so...

  • What exactly are great actor headshots?
  • How do they differ from portraits or snapshots?
  • What is the standard size of an acting headshot in the UK and an actors headshot in the US?
  • Should my headshot for acting be colour, black and white, or both?
  • Is a landscape headshot better or worse than a portrait actors headshot?
  • How do I set up a headshot shoot?
  • How do choose a photographer?
  • How much should headshots for auditions cost?

Off we go...

Your actor headshot must:

1. Look like you

Your actor’s headshot must capture the ‘essence’ of the person in the image. You.

Think like this. If you were a character, what would that character look like in a single still frame image?

Get the idea?

No scrunched up weird or forced facial expressions, no quirky funny hats, no oddball sunglasses or madly bright lipstick that "pops to loudly! It needs to suggest something about your genuine personality, who you really are.

You want it to be an opening to the window of your soul. And if you think that's's not. Authenticity is HUGE these days. Enjoying these tips for actors headshots? Let me know...

Your actors headshot needs to look exactly like how you will appear when you walk into a meeting or an audition room.

If you walk into the room, and you do NOT look like your headshot for acting, it will signal 2 things.

  1. You are totally wrong for the role, because  you’re hair is shorter, lighter, darker, your skin is a different colour etc...
  2. You could have been right for a role they cast last week, but you’ve missed it because your headshot doesn’t accurately represent or suggest who you are today. In this moment.

I know YOU know you can dye your hair, shape it, colour it etc..but they want a single easy answer to the question - does the person look EXACTLY like the photo that got them called in in the first place? Help them easy.

2. Stand out Like A Bright Yellow Rose on a Red Carpet

Agents, casting directors, producers, directors go through thousands of actor’s headshots every day. It is vital that your teeny weeny, tiny thumbnail stands out in a flock of the gazillion others. How do you do that? By having an engaging, natural-looking image. Simplicity rules. One with a nicely balanced  colour composition, good exposure and a relaxed feel.

Again - No crazy hats, no zig zag bright pink and yellow polka dotted t-shirts, no bikinis (You know who you are :-)

3.  Hit the current requirements of a Standard Actor Headshot for 2019

You may be wondering what size should a headshot be? A standard actor’s headshot is a10″ by 8″ (10x8") photograph.

This is standard headshot size for the industry in the UK and the US. So please, never use a headshot that’s smaller or bigger in size. They will bin it as being unprofessional. Not a good look.

A good headshot photographer will generally take the photograph in both landscape and portrait position. There is one disadvantage to landscape headshots: they are more difficult to use in online profiles (casting websites etc) those pics are harder to  upload.

Conclusion : Stick to Portrait for online submissions. Landscape for handed over pics. I only use portrait.

4. The Colour of Your Headshots

Just a few years ago in the UK and Ireland the actors market was dominated by black & white headshots. (US always used to be colour alone)  Ever since British casting directors and acting agents are more and more open to using colour headshots, which is why we see more of them on casting and actors own websites. Makes sense right? it is a visual industry after all :-)

Today in the UK and Ireland you can apply for a job with either black & white and/or colour headshots, unless they say which they require.  I would say colour headshots are more preferred - but give them what they ask for. Align with their choices, not your own preferences.

5. Keep Your Acting Headshots Up to Date

You must make sure your headshots are current and up to date, which means that the actor (You) must look exactly like the person in the picture. Casting directors or agents don’t want to invite a person with long black hair and find a baldie shiny head in the audition. This will ruin your relationship with the CD and you won’t be invited back. Make it easy for them. 

Get the idea?

Whenever you change your style, your looks, your casting type – your headshot must be updated to reflect your current look. It’s good practice and common sense isnt it? Not following the rules could put you in casting bad books. Avoid that. Please...:-)

6. How to Send Headshots to CDs and Agents

If you’re not applying for acting jobs or agencies online (by submitting through business or casting call websites), you'll probably send your marketing pack through snail mail (regular post). But remember, soon it will be ALL online, right? Take advantage of snail mail while you still can. Sometimes it can be good to arrive differently...

The best practice for actors is to staple a 10x8 portrait actors headshot to a single A4 page acting resume.

It’s a good way to ensure your headshot travels with your resume and doesn’t get lost. It’s also easier to hand these over physically to industry peeps, instead of looking for both separately..."er where id I leave the car...aghh!! " Get the picture?

Always send just one resume + headshot, and a short and sweet cover letter. See this video....Do not include anything else.  (No free tickets, no coupons, no supermarket or car wash vouchers...) (You know you've thought it!)

Make sure you link to your online vertical branding suite. Website, headshot, showreel, resume, Imdb and social media.

7. How to Take Good Headshots

Your goal is to show your real self and how you look in real life; this is not a modelling portfolio, so ditch the glamour, stop pouting and stop Zoolandering it... look natural. Be real, authentic and approachable.

A few points to keep in mind for your acting headshots:

  • Soft and barely noticeable make-up is good for both men and women (just enough to cover imperfections, but not so much so you look "made up").
  • No piercing in the ears, nose, eyebrows or wherever else you normally have it unless you limit yourself to these type of roles - and my question is - why limit yourself?
  • No accessories (Necklaces, jewelry, hats) glasses are fine if you always wear them.
  • If you do wear glasses, take some headshots with them, and some without (even if you can’t see without them like me).
  • No “busy or fussy or ziggy” clothing: colourful and many different patterns on the t-shirt, etc. Plain colour is best.

The same goes for your haircuts. Both men and women should avoid haircuts that attract a lot of attention; you want all the focus to be on your face. Remember, this is not a modelling competition — this is a totally different market. Stay true to the market. Show them your eyes.

Keep it simple, and maintain your hair, looks and good hygiene for the day of the shoot and the day of audition. Think of how you’d look if you’re going for a job interview: look fresh and clean. Drink LOADS of water the few days before - naturally hydrate yourself. No late nights. Ok, ignore me - waste your money ha ha x

8. How Much should Actor Headshots Cost?

The prices for acting headshots vary a lot depending on the where you live and which market you’re in. London, New York City and Los Angeles – the big three – have similar costs for acting headshots. The prices you’ll see around London and Dublin will be somewhere in this range:

Low (Cheap) headshots: €90
Medium headshots: €150-€350
Quality Professional headshots: €300-€400
Overpriced and ridiculously expensive - Avoid like the plague: €500+

Stay clear of cheap low cost actor headshots. Work a few more hours on your side job, seriously, they are THAT important. Go for Quality.

Professional headshots are always worth it, sometimes it’s just the name of the photographer that raises the price. Review their portfolio and see how their shots look BEFORE you make a choice, and compare each one of your favourite photographers against each other.

Pay close attention if the photographer has taken any headshots of people that are similar to your lead casting type. This is very important because some photographers are better at bringing out the best in men with grey hair (like me) while others are better at making women with blonde hair look natural and “pop” inside their headshots.

What's included in the headshot session?

Generally, the acting headshot session costs will depend on several factors:

  • How well known and experienced a photographer is
  • The length of the photoshoot itself - usually 2-4 hours
  • How many shots/images you’re getting out of the headshot session - Usually 4-5 High Res shots plus a cost for extras.
  • Whether or not you’re using a make-up person (Usually an extra €50-€100 Euro)
  • Do your headshots need retouching (most often, they do, mine did - and don't go overboard on this...I have a tiny red dot on my head - I always lose that - unless I don't)
  • Number of looks you’re going for - the more clothe changes, the greater the time, the higher the cost etc..

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to acting headshots, so it’s a good idea to get together a list of headshot photographers you like, and contact each one of them and ask the right questions. Think about how much you can afford and go from there.

9. Finding a Headshot Photographer

Do your research.

Take recommendations from mates, scour the interwebs and find every good quality headshot photographer in your region. Come over to my facebook group - ask around. Do your homework – they’ll each have a unique style and it’s important to find one that works for you. Some photographers work better with men, than women, others seem to photograph blonde women but cant do brunettes. Take the time to find the right fit. You want to feel comfortable so you can take some of the pressure off yourself during the photoshoot.

10. How do you know if the Price is Right?

Your headshot is an investment in your career and in your life, and it will create more opportunities for you if done well. Good ones last for years. Tax deductible in most countries. Good investment.

11. What to Avoid like the plague?

Actors often fall into the trap of hiring a buddy with a DSLR or god forbid an iPhone to shoot their actor headshots for free, or some Instagram or Facebook amateur photographer offers headshots at an extremely cheap price.  No!!

Don't go there. Please.

Professional headshot photographers are expensive for a reason – they’re good. They capture great images of actors in a natural, relaxed yet highly engaged state. They know how to retouch an image to industry standards, they know how to frame you, to get you feeling comfortable in front of the camera and they also have their finger on the pulse of what the industry is looking for today, right now. Do not compromise on quality, no matter what.

12. The Shoot Itself

So you’ve found the perfect headshot photographer. Great!

Book in advance

Give yourself plenty of time to get ready for your shoot. You might need to go shopping and update your wardrobe, book a make-up artist, get a haircut, a facial, maybe even hit the gym, drink more water, eat more green vegetables, have a sauna, or a steam...

Get Inspired. Get the best out of your Photographer.

Gather a few of some of your favourite actor headshots – it can include “celebrities” but also find some unknown or lesser-known actors headshots. What do you like about them? What is the actor wearing? How are they standing? Take notes, figure out what you like and then use that to inspire your shoot.
Important: don’t try to imitate. Be yourself. Always.

Preparation Time

I’m better in the mornings so I schedule my headshot session for 10am if I can. This gives me enough time to get up, go to the gym, shower, prepare and head to the shoot with loads of time to spare. You don’t want to turn up feeling anxious, unprepared or jittery. Give yourself every chance of getting a great headshot.

What to wear? Your Wardrobe

  • Bring 3 or 4 options of assorted clothing and a range of different outfits for men and women alike.
  • Be comfortable: Nothing too rigid and tight, and nothing too loose. What you would wear to a meeting. Relaxed, easy....
  • Fitted: Tighter clothing looks better on camera.
  • Necklines: Bring a variety of necklines, this includes jackets and jumpers. A nice jumper, a jacket, a fitted t-shirt would cover you for a variety of looks and offer a variety of necklines and opportunities for loads of layers.
  • Colours: Black and white only work in certain lighting, with certain backgrounds, so definitely include  options on the day, but make sure you also have plenty of medium tone colour options as well.
  • Bright colours can work. I like grey jumpers and shirts and black leather to be my favourite colours and textures to work with. But I always include a few jackets - you never know when you might need a more professional look.
  • Keep your skin tone in mind, lighter skin tones look washed out when wearing black, and darker skin tones appear even darker when wearing white. Take some  selfies at home, ask mates for opinions on what the best colours are for you. Mates you trust! ha ha x
  • Avoid patterns, no stripes.
  • Hair: Go natural. If you curl your hair every day,  curl your hair for your headshot shoot. If not, don't. Be natural.
  • Beards and stubble: Lads, if you have a beard, great, all you need to do is groom and trim on the morning of your shoot. You could also take your razor with you to try a clean shaven look in your shoot as well. I did that here...
  • Make Up: If this is your very first shoot, it is worth hiring a make-up artist. But not just any artist. Find someone who knows what they’re doing when it comes to actor’s headshots. Wear a bit of powder. Light looks better on skin when it’s dry without moisture.
  • Use a gentle bit of mascara, a tiny bit of eyebrow pencil to  accentuate your features, but go easy. know what works but remember - Chanel said - always take one thing off before you go out. Good advice for make up too, right? Less is more. Especially nowadays in 2019
  • Your photographer will have a make up artist that they frequently work with, and can pass their details on to you, all you need to do is ask.

Nick's PRE Flight Checklist - Before Your Headshot Session

  • Determine your branding type - Go for it. Hit the nail on the head.
  • Choose the “Bullseye” of the range of your vertical branding
  • Choose the appropriate wardrobe & hair looks that represent you properly and show your range
  • Try on your wardrobe well in advance of your shoot and take pictures to determine what works - get advice and opinions.
  • DON'T miss this step.
  • Make sure you know the answers to the “What To Do In Advance Questions” BEFORE your shoot day
  • Book your make-up and hair person for the shoot (If using one - first time - definnitely use one!)
  • Get a good night’s sleep before shooting day
  • Drink loads of water. No, more than that.
  • Relax and enjoy the day.
  • Send pictures to T.A.M. members for clarification of choice.

 How to Pose for Actors Headshots


How to Make Your Headshot Pop for Online Casting Sites

Photo Source: Photo by Paul Gaudriault on Unsplash

Headshots are an investment, so make sure you get a return on that investment with a high rate of auditions that can lead to paid work and you making a living as an actor. As such, let’s talk about what your headshot needs so that it pops specifically for online casting sites. What follows are tangible aesthetics that need to be discussed with your photographer before your shoot to make sure you’re both on the same page.

The headshot is becoming extinct. What I mean by this is that a printed 8x10 is no longer the industry standard for actors to showcase their image. That piece of real estate has now shrunken to roughly 1.5 x 2.5 inches and in some cases even smaller, like the size of a postage stamp, and it’s all the result of technology.

Online casting sites are dictating the size of actor headshots because the casting process has, for the most part, moved online to a screen. It’s also important to realize that the image you display in your profile is not necessarily the size that the casting director is going to view it. (Please read that last sentence again.)

Casting directors routinely pull up hundreds of actor images at a time and in many cases, have the option to view anywhere from three to a dozen images per row. The higher that number gets, the smaller your image gets. It’s only when they click on your thumbnail that it expands to the size you see in your profile.

If your headshot doesn’t grab their attention and stand out in this sea of thumbnails, you’re basically invisible—you don’t exist to them—and all that money you spent on headshots that may look great in 8x10 might look like an indistinct blur with two eyeballs when reduced to the size of a postage stamp. But this is reality; this is the process now.

Okay, so now we know what we’re dealing with and what we’re up against. Knowledge is power. To make sure your headshot pops on casting sites, here are five key ingredients you should make sure your headshot includes.

1. High Contrast
There needs to be a high degree of contrast between the background, your hair and skin tone, and your wardrobe. All three of these elements should contrast well with one another. I group hair and skin together because sometimes one’s skin tone is relatively close to one’s hair color. For example, someone with dark skin can have dark hair, and someone with light skin can have blond hair. You want to start with your hair and skin tone and work backward because that’s unchangeable whereas background and wardrobe are changeable. 

READ: Make Your Headshot Rejection-Proof

If you have dark hair and dark skin, make sure you’re being shot against a light background so there’s high contrast between your skin and hair tones and the background. That’s going to separate you from the background and make you stand out because of the high degree of contrast. If you have dark hair and skin and are shot against a dark background, there’s no contrast with the background The situation you want to avoid is if you have dark hair and dark skin and you’re shot against a dark background when your image is reduced to a thumbnail and it will all blend together.

Now let’s talk about your wardrobe. Again, think in terms of what’s going to provide the highest degree of contrast with both your hair and skin tone and the background. If your hair and skin tones are dark, your background is white or light gray, then a deep blue will provide high contrast with both of those color tones.

2. Portrait Orientation
All of the casting sites I researched use portrait orientation for their gallery and individual actor profile pages except for one. This tells us that in order to make the cropping process more harmonious with the portrait thumbnail template, the pictures you have taken specifically for your thumbnail image should be in portrait.

Granted, there are certain landscape images that will crop and fit nicely into a portrait orientated framework, but why swim upstream? Make it easy on yourself so that when you’re cropping your headshot or reducing its size, a portrait-orientated image is going to work better for this particular format.

3. No Busy Backgrounds
When your headshot is reduced to a tiny thumbnail image, you don’t want anything competing with your face and shafts of light or highlights bouncing off surfaces in the background can do just that. Plus, they will dilute that high contrast look we want with the background. So keep your backgrounds simple and solid.

4. Proper Framing + Sharpness
When shooting in portrait orientation, you want your head to take up one-third to one-half of the frame. This will ensure that when the image is reduced or cropped, your face and hair will still retain sharpness and detail. 

If your portrait shot is mostly body with your head taking up just one-quarter or less of the frame, your head is going to be really small in a thumbnail. You will then have to crop that original image down and it's going to look cropped, and that doesn't serve you well. It could even look a little blurry and that would not be good.

5. High f-stop
Here’s a bonus tip that you may want to jot down and share with your photographer. It’s technical, but something they will certainly understand. If you want to retain sharpness from the tip of your nose to the back of your head your photographer needs to shoot at a higher “f-stop”. Trust me, they’ll know what this means. If they don’t, run away and find another photographer.

Lower f-stops will give you a shallow depth of field meaning that your eyes may be in focus but your ears and hair may not be and if you’re cropping or reducing the image to a small thumbnail, you need to retain as much sharpness throughout the image as you can. A higher f-stop will give you that sharpness and detail throughout.

If you can get all these elements into your headshot along with a killer expression, you’ are sitting pretty when it comes to standing out amongst a sea of less optimized headshots on a casting director’s computer screen. Your image is going to catch their attention regardless of whether you’re right for the part or not, and that’s what you want.

Charles Mitri is a Los Angeles-based headshot and portrait photographer who specializes in creating dramatic, moody images for actors and models. His work elicits emotions that are rarely felt from standard industry photography. He is also involved in creating his brand of stylized portraits that combine backgrounds shot separately with subjects shot in-studio, then composited together to create one of a kind artistic images. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, writing, yoga, swing dancing, tennis, and eating chocolate chip cookies.


FAQ'S for Actors Headshots

1. Can you take your own headshots for acting?

I would say absolutely NOT! I know this is controversial and it's true professional headshots can be extremely expensive, and if you have a good enough DSLR camera, and an extremely top quality tripod, yes, but to my mind and my taste I can always tell the difference and the message it sends to me is...not professional. However, if you really HAVE to, and money is so tight, of course, otherwise, save up, work another shift. It WILL be worth it.

2. What size should a headshot for acting be?

Headshots for acting auditions are always printed on 10×8  paper, which is the standard submission size; any other size will show that you are not informed. 10X8. Please. Ok dok?

3. What makes a good actor headshot?

Pay very close attention to the framing, the lighting, and the background. No streetlamps popping out the top of your head. It's easily done.

Usually a good actor headshot is chest-up with enough lighting on the face that focus on the eyes. Most important of all. The eyes. No strong shadows. And something happening behind the eyes. Thoughts. Weird. Wonderful. Magical. Strange. Curious. You. get the picture?


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